The pioneering mRNA COVID vaccine work accomplished by distinguished scientists around the globe saved millions of lives during the pandemic, while everyday heroes performed countless acts of kindness and self-sacrifice to help keep us all safe.
Those heroes were honored at special events April 29 and 30. Honoring these heroes was the mission of two Orange County philanthropists: Newport Beach resident Douglas Freeman, who along with President Ronald Reagan created National Philanthropy Day which is celebrated annually throughout the U.S. and across the globe, and Charlie Zhang, a naturalized U.S citizen who escaped nearly penniless from communist China at age 24 and went on to create several multi-million-dollar businesses.
Their efforts culminated in a two-day commemoration.
On Friday, April 29, the Celebration of Heroes brought a group of vaccine scientists from the U.S. and Canada to a press briefing and public panel discussion at the Beckman Center of the National Academy of Sciences and Engineering at UCI.
On Saturday, April 30, more than 500 guests came together at the Anaheim Westin Resort to celebrate scientists and everyday people for all they did.
Saturday’s joyful event began with a special private showing of the remarkable “Immersive Van Gogh” exhibition that underscored the tragedy of suicide, an issue faced by today’s overstressed healthcare workers.
Other highlights included a color guard and heralding trumpets, and performances by students from the O.C. Music & Dance school. An honor roll of distinguished scientists was introduced to the audience, as were the featured heroes. Special guests included broadcast news journalists Miles O’Brien and Shelby Nelson, and science author Fabrice Delaye.
The event culminated with the joint launch of the “Health Heroes Program” in support of the mental health of local healthcare workers, announced by Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services CEO Jonathan Goldfinger, M.D., and actress and TV host Melissa Rivers, Executive Vice Chair, Board of Directors.
Multicultural, multigenerational, global artist and suicide prevention advocate Alex Boyé provided an apt finale for the evening. Subsequently, A $100,000 donation to help fund the mental health program was made by the Celebration founders.
The distinguished scientists honored that evening included Philip Felgner, Ph.D.; Ian MacLachlan, Ph.D.; Pieter Cullis, Ph.D.; Drew Weissman, M.D, Ph.D.; Barney S. Graham, M.D., Ph.D.; Jason McLellan, Ph.D.; Pierre Meulien, Ph.D.; Kizzmekia Corbett, Ph.D.; Katalin Kariko, Ph.D.; Kathrin Jansen, Ph.D.; Tal Zaks, M.D., Ph.D.; Gary Procop, M.D., M.S., MASCP.; and Geoffrey Baird, M.D., Ph.D., FASCP.
Selected as featured heroes from scores of honorees were everyday heroes Jacqueline Deats, NP-C; Don Diamond, Ph.D.; Michael Franklin, R.N.; Earl Fuller, M.D.; Daniel Kim; Jenny Leon; Paula McGann-Panganiban; Maritza Celene Nunez Arredondo; Susanne Phillips, DNP, APRN,FNP-BC; Kristin Thompson; Mary Grace Tumball and Jennifer Wang.
All received the Celebration’s Hummingbird AWARD as a symbol of what’s possible when all others say it’s not.
“I have the privilege of spearheading Orange County’s initiative to celebrate our pioneering scientists who have changed the course of medical science forever, and our everyday-everywhere heroes, who sacrificed so much for all of us,” said Freeman during the gala.
He pointed out that because of the profound difference these scientists and their many colleagues made in the lab, and the selfless acts so many others from all walks of life performed in hospitals, classrooms, restaurants, grocery stores, farms, factories, senior centers, at home, and in so many other places, we are much better off today.
“Together these two remarking groups of men and women, ranging in age from 17 to 91, and from retired housewife to renowned scientist, protected us, cared for us and those we love, and gave us hope when all looked frightening,” said Freeman. “For now, thank you for coming and, to my dear friend, who inspired me to create this event, Charlie Zhang, and all my colleagues, friends, family, supporters, and sponsors who made this evening possible, my profound gratitude. You took this journey with me. We’re here and tonight we will celebrate!”
For more information on the Celebration of Heroes and to donate to the Health Heroes Program, visit www.CelebrationOfHeroes.com.